cover image Who Does that Bitch Think She Is?: Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag

Who Does that Bitch Think She Is?: Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag

Craig Seligman. PublicAffairs, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5417-0216-5

Cultural critic Seligman (Sontag and Kael) delivers an illuminating history of drag performance through the life of drag queen Doris Fish. Born into a middle-class Catholic family in Sydney, Australia, in 1952, Fish (real name: Philip Mills) became a queer legend in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Drawing on candid and often hilarious interviews with Fish’s family and friends, Seligman recounts his emergence as a performer in Sylvia and the Synthetics, a “psycho troupe” of drag queens in Sydney, and his move to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he blossomed as a sex worker and performer in the drag shows Sluts a Go-Go and Nightclub of the Living Dead and the sci-fi drag film Vegas in Space. Fish’s “enormous libido” and wicked wit—after being diagnosed with AIDS, he held a tribute for himself called “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is?”—are on full display, and Seligman weaves in enlightening histories of the AIDS pandemic, Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign, and more, while making a strong case for drag shows as political theater that “accomplish[ed] satire’s deepest dream: not just to rail against society, but to change it.” This smart, funny, and sexy queer history is a smash. Photos. (Feb.)